I t is only the end of November: The ginkgoes and maples are just turning color in Tokyo, and the ducks are still settling in after their long annual trip south. Last Tuesday night, if you were lucky, you got to gaze at the full moon through the combed hair of the “susuki” grass, thinking poetic autumnal thoughts as you did so. It is a beautiful season, which should be savored. And yet the Christmas lights are already going up along the shopping streets and the bleating of carols floods supermarkets and department stores.
What’s the rush? We hardly had time to give thanks for labor this week before the lords of commerce started bombarding us with not-so-subliminal reminders of the thankless labor to come: the buying spree that has long dominated December but is now mounting a hostile takeover bid for late November as well. Christmas-driven shopping has burst its banks, overflowing into the traditional season of autumn gift-giving at one end, as well as bumping into New Year’s at the other, as it always has. Shoppers, especially women, are on the go now for a full two months.
Why is this? Clearly, the merchants are the culprits. They cannot be blamed for wanting to turn a profit — indeed, given the lingering recession, we hope they do — or for jumping on the Christmas bandwagon that has proven so lucrative in the West since at least the Victorian era. No other season comes with so many instant mood-setting and purse-loosening props: the lights, the trees, the music, the bright wrappings, the food, all the trappings of festivity that are doubly alluring in the depths of winter. It is no wonder that stores cannot resist the temptation to haul them all out a little earlier every year.
It is time to draw a line, however. The best move would be to proclaim Tokyo’s no-nonsense Gov. Shintaro Ishihara the national czar for keeping Christmas in its place. But since we are all honest-to-goodness free marketeers now, we will have to make do with a private vow: to maintain a thoroughly skeptical, disapproving, Scrooge-like attitude to the Christmas frenzy . . . until Dec. 1.
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